"In matters of race, in matters of decency, baseball should lead the way."
—A. Bartlett Giamatti
The late Commissioner was a smart man, and I would have written that even if he hadn't gone to and later served as president of Yale.
Look, we all know that Major League Baseball (MLB) was just a mirror institution for the social segregation going on in this country during the 1920s, '30s and '40s. That obviously changed when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. But did you know that persons of color are still being treated as second-class citizens by MLB?
Here's the history—in 1993, MLB, largely under the leadership of then Commissioner Fay Vincent and National League President Leonard Coleman, gave 39 veterans of the Negro Leagues and their spouses lifetime health insurance. And you know what? Props to MLB for doing that.
After all, most of these talented men had been cheated out of the opportunity to play in big leagues all because the color of their skin wasn't white. So here's a big-time thumbs up to MLB for remedying that.
Four years later, MLB again attempted to correct the injustices of the past by giving 29 veterans of the Negro Leagues life annuity payments worth $7,500 to $10,000 per year. That same year, the league also bestowed life annuity payments totaling $10,000 per year to retired Caucasian men, such as 1941 National League Most Valuable Player Dolph Camilli, who played prior to the establishment of the players' pension fund in 1947.
Seven years later, in 2004, President Obama's predecessor in Congress, United States Senator Carol Moseley Braun, appealed to Florida Senator Bill Nelson to urge Commissioner Bud Selig to expand that class of retired Negro Leaguers, arguing that baseball wasn't truly integrated until 1959, when the Boston Red Sox added Pumpsie Green to their roster. And sure enough, 89 additional men received new lifetime payments; though the terms were a bit different, each of these Negro Leaguers was promised $40,000 for four years, or $350 per month for life.
And finally, in 2008, acting on a proposal from Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, MLB held a mock draft: in the interests of diversity, each MLB team selected a living veteran of the Negro Leagues and paid him a signing bonus of $10,000.
Not too shabby, you're probably saying to yourself. Giamatti would be proud.
So all this generosity begets the logical question—if MLB is so intent on doing the right thing for all those men who it didn't have a contractual employment history with, why does it continue to hose all those retired ballplayers who it did have legitimate contractual relationships with?
Now if you can answer that, you're smarter than me.
Sure, most of these 900 or so guys are Caucasian, but many of them are persons of color. Take Herb Washington, for instance. The famous designated pinch runner for the Oakland Athletics who Mike Marshall picked off during the 1974 World Series has done alright for himself during his post-baseball career, but that's not the point. He's not getting health insurance coverage from his time in The Show.
But it's not just African-Americans who are being hosed by MLB. Neither is a guy like Mexican-American Dick Baney, who played alongside Jim Bouton on that expansion Seattle Pilots team famously chronicled in Ball Four.
I could go on, but I'm sure you smell what the Rock is cookin'.
The only question is, does MLB?